How to report scams and why it matters
Have you spotted or fallen victim to a scam? Learn how to report scams and why it’s important to do so.
June 29, 2021 6 min read
Every year, billions of dollars are lost through a variety of scams, with some groups especially vulnerable. The elderly, for instance, tend to be a common target for scammers. Those spending time online are likely to come across scams, as scammers increasingly look for ways to swindle internet users.
While the numbers may seem significant, being vigilant about how scammers might target you can be a great step in your efforts to avoid becoming a victim. One effective way to combat scams is not only to know what they look like when you or your loved ones receive them, but to report them to the proper authorities as soon as possible.
By understanding what to look for and how your actions can benefit others, you may be able to make a difference. You also could be better prepared and know what steps to take if you do become a victim. Here are some reasons to contact authorities, ways to report scams, and how to stay in the know about common scams.
Why it's important to report scams
Millions of Americans file complaints each year related to fraud, identity theft and other consumer complaints. If you report scams, you could be part of a movement to help protect yourself and others. Every report typically holds valuable information.
The agencies and organizations that receive reports compile the information and may be able to identify the scammers immediately. They can then track the scammers involved. Other times, the agencies may not be able to pinpoint the scammers right away. These organizations can, however, sift through the data to spot patterns that might help them further address the issue. They might reach out to a company or an industry and work with that entity to both identify and stop a certain type of scam.
For instance, the app Truecaller estimates that nearly $20 billion was lost in the U.S. due to phone scams over the past year. To help combat this, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) collects all the numbers it receives each day from consumers reporting phone scams. The agency then makes those numbers available to the public. Phone carriers and others who work with functions such as call blocking can take note of these publicly released numbers to help enhance consumer protections. In addition, law enforcement officials are able to look at the numbers and work to identify the scammers behind them.
How to report scams
If you’ve fallen victim to a scam, or if you’ve observed suspicious activity, you can contact authorities right away. It is also beneficial to take some time to make sure you’re alerting the appropriate agencies. Here are some ways to reach out and report a scam:
- Identity scams: For most scams, including phony calls and emails, fake checks, money demands, and fake prize offers, file a complaint with the FTC.
- Internet scams: For online scams, such as a fraudulent website or your computer getting infected with malware, inform the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3).
- IRS impostor scams: If you’re contacted by someone claiming to be from the IRS, report the activity to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration.
- Social Security impostor scams: If someone contacts you in a suspicious way and states he or she is from the Social Security Administration (SSA), report the issue to the SSA’s inspector general.
- Disaster-related scams: For natural or man-made disaster scams, including those related to COVID-19, fill out a complaint form with the U.S. Department of Justice’s National Center for Disaster Fraud.
- Company-specific scams: If you see suspicious activity related to an organization or retailer, you can reach out and contact that entity directly. For companies that appear to be fraudulent or the origination point of a scam, you may choose to send a report to the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker.
- For scams targeting Capital One accounts: If you spot suspicious activity specifically related to your Capital One account, send an email to email@example.com. You can also contact our Support Center for help.
In addition, you can contact your local law enforcement and your state’s consumer protection office. These authorities might be able to work with you directly or use the information you send to help others.
How to learn more about common scams
While scams may not ever completely disappear, knowing what to watch for can help you avoid being a victim. You also may be able to better identify and report a scam. Here are a few ways to stay on top of scams:
- Understand common scams: By reading about how fraud typically occurs, you’ll increase your overall awareness. Scammers often operate under the guise of a charity or business, or act as a person from a known company or organization.
- Follow trends: By reading about recent scam developments and ways to avoid scams, you can stay tuned in to the current scene. This may be especially relevant with the pandemic, as scammers are using new tactics to lure those working from home.
- Know how scammers reach out: Scammers may try to contact individuals in a variety of ways, including phone calls, text messages and emails. If you receive a message, it may try to entice you to share personal information. This is known as phishing, as scammers are looking for personal data they can use to make purchases or carry out other illicit activities. Scammers might also send letters or knock on your door.
When it comes to reporting scams, knowledge is empowering. Understanding which authorities to contact and learning about common scams can help you be better prepared. If you notice something that seems suspicious, reach out to the appropriate party right away. Best of all, your actions could help you, your family members, your friends, your community and beyond.